‘New’ crank phones to be installed at Curran Homestead

Posted June 30, 2011, at 7:05 p.m.
Last modified June 30, 2011, at 10:43 p.m.
Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum director Bruce Bowden, left, holds a new crank wall-mounted telephone while David Thompson, phone enthusiast and treasurer for the New England Museum of Telephoney, Inc., pretends to make a call. The historic crank phone will be installed in the kitchen of the old farm and another similar crank phone will be put up in the barn for visitors to use.
Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum director Bruce Bowden, left, holds a new crank wall-mounted telephone while David Thompson, phone enthusiast and treasurer for the New England Museum of Telephoney, Inc., pretends to make a call. The historic crank phone will be installed in the kitchen of the old farm and another similar crank phone will be put up in the barn for visitors to use.
David Thompson, left, phone enthusiast and treasurer for the New England Museum of Telephoney, Inc., and Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum director Bruce Bowden install a new crank wall-mounted telephone Thursday, June 30, 2011. The historic crank phone will be installed in the kitchen of the old farm and another similar crank phone will be put up in the barn for visitors to use.
David Thompson, left, phone enthusiast and treasurer for the New England Museum of Telephoney, Inc., and Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum director Bruce Bowden install a new crank wall-mounted telephone Thursday, June 30, 2011. The historic crank phone will be installed in the kitchen of the old farm and another similar crank phone will be put up in the barn for visitors to use.

ORRINGTON, Maine — Two wooden wall-mounted crank telephones — the first type of phones widely used after Alexander Graham Bell invented them in 1876 — soon will connect folks in the kitchen of the Curran Homestead to those out in the old dairy barn.

They also will connect to the past those who nowadays carry cell phones in their pockets, said Bruce Bowden, director of the Curran Homestead Living History Farm & Museum.

The antique phones will provide visitors to the turn-of-the-century farm located on Fields Pond with a working piece of history, Bowden said.

What better way to learn about the past than to pick up a receiver, crank the magneto — a generator inside the phone that a century ago would signal the operator — and speak clearly into the black mouthpiece?

To make a call between the kitchen and the nearby barn, users will need to “just turn the crank once,” said David Thompson, a telephone buff who is treasurer of The New England Museum of Telephoney Inc. in Ellsworth.

The circa-1890s Curran Homestead was a subsistence farm that utilized crops, animals, wood and local resources, such as ice from the pond, to provide food, shelter and cash for the Curran family.

Mary Katherine Curran, who died in 1991, asked that the property be preserved in her will and a group of local volunteers decided to take the 30-acre dilapidated farm and turn it into the Curran Homestead Living History Farm & Museum.

Twenty years later, the Fields Pond Road farm provides a glimpse into the area’s past and the volunteer board strives to preserve treasures from yesteryear.

The historic telephones — one found by Thompson and one donated by a group of local history buffs who call themselves the Antiques Study Group — soon will be mounted and connected to each other.

“They try and make a difference by either volunteering or providing items, like this telephone,” Irv Marsters, Curran Homestead treasurer, said of the Antiques Study Group.“They’ve kind of adopted us to see what they can do to help.”

The two Magneto phones, which are almost identical, are similar to the one that used to hang in the house, he said.

Inside the wall-mounted wood telephones, which were mass-produced between the 1890s and 1940s, are several compartments to hold the batteries and magneto.

The old 2-volt batteries contained inside are being replaced by either C or D batteries and “hopefully we can find some period wire” to connect them, Thompson said. “We try to be as authentic as we can.”

The newfangled technology from a century ago fits into a 1-by-2-foot wooden box that is mounted to a wall and is expected to be a crowd-pleaser, especially to cell phone-carrying young people.

“We’ve had kids [visit] here who didn’t know what clothespins are,”  Bowden said. “When they say, ‘Dial a number,’ they never stop to think that there is no dial.”

The installation of the historic working phones will be timed with Curran Homestead’s summer festival July 23-24 which will feature Maine Antique Tractor Club exhibits, a blacksmith round-up, and century-old games and activities for people of all ages.

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